England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

New hate speech law provokes right-wing backlash

By Socialist Alternative Scotland

Transphobic millionaire author JK Rowling hit the headlines last month, branding Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act an ‘April Fools!’ In a succession of cruel tweets, Rowling repeatedly misgendered scores of trans people. Claiming her words were illegal under the new law which came into effect on 1 April, she brazenly taunted Police Scotland and the SNP government, demanding they arrest her.

Other figures also attacked the law. On Saturday 6 April, far-right transphobe Posie Parker, pals with the racist Tommy Robinson, held a protest in Edinburgh. Wall-to-wall press coverage portrayed her as a ‘feminist’ standing up for ‘free speech’. TV football pundit, and ex-Glasgow Rangers player, Ally McCoist said “I can guarantee you at Ibrox” (during the Rangers-Celtic ‘old firm’ match, the next day) “I, along with 48,000 will be committing a breach of that hate bill” with sectarian chants. McCoist’s attacks, if unchallenged, could undo decades of campaigning by football fans against sectarian chants on the terraces and spread religious hate further,  a particularly worrying prospect as British and Irish capitalism’s Good Friday Agreement falls apart, threatening to inflame sectarian divisions across the Irish Sea.

Police Scotland received over 7,000 complaints in the first week of April and 1,832 in the second week. They say that 445 were hate crimes but are only investigating six under the new Act. Whilst partly explained by the fact that many complaints were made cynically in the reactionary campaign against the law, this highlights the fundamental problem posed by relying on the capitalist state to police the oppression and discrimination fundamental to the system of exploitation it exists to uphold. How on earth can Police Scotland be expected to identify and prosecute hate crimes when its own chief constable said less than a year ago that it is “institutionally racist and misogynist”?

Many prosecutions will also fail in a justice system repeatedly shown to be equally racist and sexist, most recently in the 11 March BBC Scotland Disclosures documentary, where poet and Scots language campaigner Len Pennie and six other women revealed how the courts added to their trauma fighting domestic abuse.

Conservative fear-mongering

Aside from abolishing the medieval crime of blasphemy, the law improves the definition of the ‘protected category’ of people subject to prejudice on the basis of transgender identity, decoupling it from gender recognition certificates and including non-binary people. It also makes it an imprisonable offense to incite hatred on the basis of religion, transgender identity, sexual orientation, age or disability. Previously this protection only existed on the grounds of race.

This is actually a very modest change, for the most part bringing the law in line with that enacted by Tory and Labour administrations in England. Why then are Ross’s Scottish Tories foaming at the mouth over it, and Starmer’s Labour Party attacking its implementation by the SNP?

This comes in the context of a worldwide ruling class offensive against the tide of anti-oppression movements: over a decade of global feminist struggles, including #MeToo, the Green Wave in Latin America and the Woman, Life, Freedom uprising in Iran, but also BLM, the trans rights movement and anti-imperialist struggles, most recently the Gaza solidarity movement.

This battle is being fought over many other fronts, including the Cass Review’s attacks on trans healthcare for young people. Despite projecting themselves as defenders of equality and progress in Scotland, the SNP are retreating in full-flight before these reactionary attacks. NHS Scotland has just announced that the prescription of puberty blockers for under-18s will be ‘paused’.

Indeed a further capitulation lies at the heart of the Act. Far and away the most hate-crimes in Scotland are gender-related crimes in which the victims are women. Yet gender is not protected under the Act. There is provision for the government to add a new protected characteristic of ‘sex’. By this legislative ‘sleight of hand’ the SNP tried to avoid confronting the crude biological determinism of an unholy alliance of conservatives stretching from the religious authorities to transphobic ‘feminists’ which seeks to imprison both women and the trans community in damaging and oppressive gender roles, leaving women defenceless. Ministers hoped to ‘kick the can further down the road’ by promising an ‘Anti-Misogyny’ Bill, but now face pressure from transphobes (including some SNP MSPs) to exclude trans women from its protection. Whilst Yousaf had suggested this will not happen, it’s likely (Tory or Labour) Westminster ministers would torpedo the law in the same way as the 2022 Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Act was blocked. Beating this ban requires mass resistance which the SNP showed they were not prepared to mobilise to defend the GRR.

The state won’t protect us

The use of similar laws to ban and prosecute pro-Palestinian protestors as ‘anti-semites’ in Germany highlights that we can’t rely on reforms to the capitalist state to stop hate crimes. Repressive state powers will always be turned back on the working class and socialists.

However, a different development in Germany points to the real answer to hate crimes in Scotland. The spontaneous uprising in January of up to two million youth, migrants and trade unionists against the racist plans of the far-right AfD party showed the potential to build a mass movement which can push back ruling class offensives designed to divide and defeat struggle from below.

Scotland needs a similar struggle: LGBTQ+ activists, feminists, the independence movement, and above all the workers’ movement (particularly the unions) urgently need to build organs of struggle which can turn back the attacks which the SNP allow from, and even implement for, the capitalist class and the British state. A key part of this will be the fight to win back our unions for their members, and build a fighting leadership under the democratic control of the rank and file.


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